I’m almost too overcome to speak.
James is standing in front of me, sobbing, and I don’t know if I’m dreaming.
“James?” I hear Kenji say. I look back to see almost everyone has gotten out of the tank now. “Is that you, buddy?”
“Addie, I’m s-sorry,” he hiccups. “I know you s-said—you s-said I wasn’t supposed to fight, but I couldn’t stay behind and I had to l-leave—”
I pull him into my arms, clutching him tight, hardly able to breathe.
“I wanted to f-fight with you,” he stammers. “I didn’t w-want to be a baby. I wanted t-to h-help—”
“Shhhh,” I say to him. “It’s okay, James. It’s okay. We’re okay. It’s going to be okay.”
“But Addie,” he says, “you don’t know what h-happened—I’d only been gone a little while and then I saw the p-planes—”
I shush him again and tell him it’s okay. That we know what happened. That he’s safe now.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t h-help you,” he says, pulling back to look me in the eye, his cheeks a splotchy red and streaked with tears. “I know you said I shouldn’t, but I really w-wanted to h-help—”
I pick him up, cradling his body in my arms as I carry him back to the tank, and only then realize that the wet stain down the front of his pants isn’t from the rain.
James must’ve been terrified. He must’ve been scared out of his mind and still, he snuck out of Omega Point because he wanted to help. Because he wanted to fight alongside us.
I could kill him for it.
But damn if he’s not one of the bravest people I’ve ever known.
Once we’re back in the tank, we realize we have no idea what to do.
Nowhere to go.
The depth of what’s happened has only begun to hit us. And just because I was able to salvage a bit of good news from the wreckage doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot left to grieve.
Castle is practically comatose.
Kenji is the only one who’s still trying to keep us alive. He’s the only one with any sense of self-preservation left, and I think it’s because of Castle. Because no one is leading us anymore, and someone has to step up.
But even with Kenji doing his best to keep us focused, few of us are responding. The day has come to a close much more quickly than we could’ve expected, and the sun is setting fast, plunging us all into darkness.
We’re tired, we’re broken, and we can no longer function.
Sleep, it seems, is the only thing that will come.
James stirs in my arms.
I’m awake in an instant, blinking fast and looking around to find everyone else still asleep. The sun slits open the horizon to let the light out, and the morning is so still, and so quiet, it seems impossible there’s ever been anything wrong.
The truth, however, comes back too quickly.
It’s bricks on my chest, pressure in my lungs, aches in my joints, and metal in my mouth—reminders of the long day, the longer night, and the boy curled up in my arms.
Death and destruction. Slivers of hope.
Kenji drove us to a remote location and used the last of his strength to make the tank invisible for most of the night; it was the only way we could wait out the battle and manage to sleep for a few hours. I’m still not sure how that guy is functioning. He’s definitely way stronger than I’ve ever given him credit for.
The world around us is eerily calm. I shift a little and James is alert, up and asking questions the moment his mouth hinges open. His voice disturbs everyone, startling them awake. I use the back of my hand to rub at my eyes and adjust James in my lap, holding him close. I drop a kiss on the top of his head and tell him to be quiet.
“Why?” he asks.
I cover his mouth with my hand.
He slaps it away.
“Good morning, sunshine.” Kenji blinks in our direction.
“Morning,” I say back.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” he says, trying to smile. “I was talking to the sunshine.”
I grin in response, not really sure where we’re going with this. There’s so much to talk about, and so much we don’t want to talk about, that I don’t know if we’ll ever talk at all. I glance back at Castle and notice he’s wide awake and staring out the window. I wave hello.
“Did you sleep all right?” I ask him.
Castle stares at me.
I glance at Kenji.
Kenji looks out the window, too.
I blow out a breath.
Everyone makes their way back to the present, slowly but surely. Once we’re all in semiworking condition—Brendan and Winston included—Kenji doesn’t waste any time.
“We have to figure out where we’re going to go,” he says. “We can’t risk being on the road for too long, and I’m not sure how long or how well I’ll be able to project. My energy is coming back, but slowly, and it’s in and out. Not something I can rely on right now.”
“We also need to think about food,” Ian says groggily.
“Yeah, I’m pretty hungry,” James adds.
I squeeze his shoulders. We’re all starving.
“Right,” Kenji says. “So does anyone have any ideas?”
Silence from all of us.
“Come on, guys,” he says. “Think. Any hideouts, any secure spots—anywhere you’ve ever crashed that was once a safe space—”
“What about our old house?” James asks, looking around.
I sit up straighter, surprised I hadn’t thought of it myself. “Right—of course,” I say. “Good idea, James.” I muss his hair. “That would work.”
Kenji pounds his fist on the steering wheel. “Yes!” he says loudly. “Good. Excellent. Perfect. Thank God.”
“But what if they come looking for us?” Lily asks. “Didn’t Warner know about your old place?”
“Yeah,” I tell her. “But if they think everyone from Omega Point is dead, they won’t think to come search for me. Or any of us.”
At that, the car goes dead quiet.
The elephant in the room has made an appearance, and now no one knows what to say. We all look to Castle for direction on how best to proceed, but he doesn’t say a word. He’s staring straight ahead at nothing at all, like he’s been paralyzed from the inside.
“Let’s go,” Alia says quietly. She’s the only one who responds to me, and she offers me a kind smile as she does. I decide I like her for it. “We should secure shelter as soon as possible. And maybe find James something to eat.”
I beam at her. So touched that she would speak for James.
“Maybe we could find something all of us could eat,” Ian cuts in, grumpy. I frown, but I can’t blame him. My stomach has made a few protests of its own.
“We should have plenty of food back at the house,” I say. “It’s been paid for through the end of the year, so we’ll have just about everything we need—water, electricity, a roof over our heads—but it’ll be tight, and it’ll be temporary. We’ll have to come up with a more long-term solution soon.”
“Sounds good,” Kenji says to me. He turns back to look at everyone. “We all in agreement here?”
There’s a murmur of consent and that’s all we need, really, before we’re off and heading back to my old place. Back to the beginning.
Relief floods through me.
I’m so grateful to be able to take James home. To let him sleep in his own bed. And though I know better than to ever say it out loud, a small part of me is happy that our time at Omega Point is officially over. There’s a silver lining in all of this, and it’s that Warner thinks we’re all dead. And even though he’s got Juliette now, he won’t have her forever. She’ll be safe until we can find a way to get her back, and until then, he won’t come after us. We can find a way to live, away from all the violence and destruction.
Besides, I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of being on the run and always having to risk my life and constantly worrying about James. I just want to go home. I want to take care of my brother. And I never, ever, ever want to feel what I felt last night.
I can’t risk losing James, not ever again.
The roads are almost entirely abandoned. The sun is high and the wind is bitingly cold and though the rain has stopped, the air smells like snow, and I have a feeling it’s going to be harsh. I wrap James more tightly in my arms, shivering against a chill coming from deep inside my body. He’s fallen asleep again, his small face buried in the crook of my neck. I hug him closer to my chest.
With the opposition destroyed, there’s no need to have many—if any—troops on the ground. They’re probably clearing out the bodies now, cleaning up the mess and putting things back in order as soon as possible. It’s what we always did.
Battle was necessary, but cleaning it up was just as crucial.
Warner used to drill that home: we were never to allow civilians time to grieve. We could never give them the opportunity to make martyrs of their loved ones. No, it was better for the deaths to seem as insignificant as possible.
Everyone had to go back to work right away.
So many times I was a part of those missions. I always hated Warner, hated The Reestablishment and all it stood for, but now I feel even more strongly about it all. Thinking I’d lost James did something to me last night, and the damage is irreparable. I thought I knew what it was like to lose someone close to me, but I didn’t, not really. Losing a parent is excruciating, but somehow, the pain is so much different from losing a child. And James, to me, in many ways, feels like my own kid. I raised him. Took care of him. Protected him. Fed him and clothed him. Taught him most everything he knows. He’s my only hope in all this devastation—the one thing I’ve always lived for, always fought for. I’d be lost without him.
James gives my life purpose.
And I didn’t realize this until last night.
What The Reestablishment does—separating parents from their children, separating spouses from each other, basically ripping families apart—they do it on purpose. And the cruelty of these actions hadn’t really hit me until now.
I don’t think I could ever be a part of something like that again.
We pull into the underground parking garage without a problem, and once we’re inside, I can exhale. I know we’ll be safe here.
The nine of us clamber out of the tank and stand around for a moment. Brendan and Winston are holding fast to each other, still recovering from their wounds. I’m not sure what happened to them, exactly, because no one is talking about it, but I don’t think I want to know. Alia and Lily help Castle down from the tank, and Ian is close behind. Kenji is standing next to me. I’m still holding James in my arms, and I only put him down after he asks me to.
“You guys ready to go up?” I ask. “Shower? Eat some breakfast?”
“That sounds great, man,” says Ian.
Everyone else agrees.